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For the typical Bangali, essentially khadyaroshik (foodie), Poila Baisakh is yet another excuse to binge. Ideally, they must be treated to an elaborate pancho byanjon ahaar (five course meal) with all the frills. Nothing less would do. Intricate preparations such as mochar ghonto and chitol muitha might no longer be cooked in their kitchens as regularly as they once used to be, but come Poila Baisakh, those are just the dishes they go out looking for, partly for nostalgia sake, and partly to keep the tradition alive. And, restaurants in the city have come up with special menus that anticipate the fancies of the new age Bengali.
At Aaheli, Peerless Inn, try the latest additions to their menu such as the posto kasundi parshey, parshey cooked with poppy seeds and mango mustard relish or the golando pur-er mangsho, a recipe from the Tagore household and thor chingrir dalna, banana stem cooked with shrimps. Alternatively, go for one of their special thalis that have dishes from and mochar ghonto to chingri malaikari and bhetki paturi. The thalis come accompanied by goyna bori (dried lentil pellets intricately designed, like jewellery), a culinary heirloom of Bengal. Try the kheerer goja, a recipe culled from rural Bengal, for desserts.
Cut to 6 Ballygunge Place, one of the most popular Bengali specialty restaurants in town. Their New Year special menu, quintessentially Bengali, has time-honoured favourites such as dhokar dalna (curried lentil cakes), kosha mangsho and chingrir malaikari with a smattering of originals such as the aam aada flavoured dal, kumro borir bharta (a mash made with pumpkin and dried lentil pellets) and steamed garlic bhetki (reminiscent of a typical paturi). And, there is crab cutlet! Baked mihidana with rabri, malpua and mishti doi make for the dessert platter.
At KK’s Fusion, Chef Pradip Rozario has designed a special á la carte menu. His penchant for ‘fusion fare sets the spread apart from other Naba Barsho spreads. The prawns in a typical malaikari come wrapped in bacon, grilled fish is topped with a traditional shukto (a medley of vegetables in light, slightly bitter gravy), and a typical vegetable chorchori is wrapped in flour tortilla. Or, try the Bangladeshi style mutton roast served with bhuna khichuri, a lentil and rice pulao of sorts.
Another spread with a difference is the one at Alfresco, The Lalit Great Eastern, where this Poila Baisakh they are celebrating the city’s vintage street food. So, there is ghugni and pav, the kind served on Lord Sinha Road, and New Market’s feted chaat, plus they have imported the famous stew served at a legendary eatery on Dacres’ Lane across the street from the hotel. The lunch and dinner buffets will also have dishes such as mishti pulao, Kolkata style biryani and narkel shorshe bhetki along with a range of typical Bengali sweetmeats such as sita bhog and lengcha.
Or, head over to Swissôtel Kolkata to sample gandharaj chingri (tandoori prawns flavoured with Bengal’s feted king lime), gaach pathar chop (raw jackfruit croquettes) and koraishutir dhoka (curried green peas cakes). Durbari, the hotel’s specialty Indian restaurant, has designed an impressive á la carte menu that is a fantastic mix of tradition and novelty. A few of the top draws include posto bata murgi (chicken cooked with poppy seed paste), khashir steamer curry (a typical goat meat curry cooked with potatoes) and Chittagong pomfret fry, Try the daab er payesh, a tender coconut pudding, for desserts.
The Park is celebrating Poila Baisakh at all its food outlets, except Zen. At Saffron, the Bengali thali has dishes like topshe maachh bhaja and Anglo Indian chicken cutlet. The buffet at The Bridge will include typical Bengali dishes such as chingri malakari and pabda shorshe along with wood roast chicken drumsticks and dhonepata (cilantro) smoked chicken tikka. There is mishti doi cheesecake for dessert. The Street, on the other hand will serve pucca Kolkata street favourites such as mochar chop (banana blossom croquettes) and chingrir cutlet.
Kebab-e-que at The Astor has designed an impressive Poila Baishakh menu that has dishes culled from across West Bengal, and ventures across the border to include dishes from erstwhile East Bengal as well. So, there is nol pora mangsho, spiced chunks of goat meat cooked inside a hollow bamboo cane, a recipe picked from the Dooars region of Bengal, and an array of bhartas (Bangladeshi style spicy pastes) made with everything from brinjal and sweet potato to eggs and flat beans. Try the innovative aam kasundi paturi or the mourala chorchori, a perennial favourite in Bengali homes.
The meal at Kalash, Hotel Hindustan International’s specialty Indian outfit, starts with Morog or Tomato surua (soup) and moves on to perennial favourites such as chicken cutlet, fish kabiraji and topshe machh bhaja. For main course there are Nawabi chicken malaikari, Chittagong-style chingri bhuna, and kakrar jhaal (a spicy, braised crab curry). Vegetarians can feast on traditional kaanch kolar kofta (raw banana kofta) and enchor aloor torkari, a curry made with raw jack fruit and potatoes. Finally, for desserts there are vintage sweetmeats such as labanga latika, kamala bhog and malpua.
Novotel Kolkata’s round-the-clock dining destination, The Square, is serving largely traditional lunch and dinner buffets with dishes such as kochi pathar jhol (a light mutton curry) dab chingri (prawns cooked in tender coconut shells) and sorshe ilish (hilsa cooked with mustard). For vegetarians, there are dishes such as chhanar kalia, a rich curry made with cottage cheese dumplings and phulkopir bati chorchori, a typical home-style cauliflower curry. The dessert section has traces of innovation with numbers such as nolen gur crème brûlée and nolen gur and malpua cheesecake.
Need we say more? Stay calm and eat.
An independent journalist based out of Calcutta and a dedicated food enthusiast, she writes mostly about food and travel, and has worked and written for publications India Today, The Telegraph, Live Mint as also Lonely Planet India’s website. She also loves to experiment in her kitchen and runs a food blog – allthatsdelicious.com. But mostly she eats, frets about how much she eats and then eats some more.